Meet the opposition: AFC Wimbledon cherishing the big away days after a great escape
PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 August 2019
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Ipswich Town play AFC Wimbledon for the first time ever when the clubs meet in a League One game at Portman Road tonight. STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the Blues' latest opposition.
PHOENIX FROM THE FLAMES
We all know the back story.
A bitter fall-out following Wimbledon's relocation, 60 miles away, to Milton Keynes. The formation of a new club, groundsharing with Kingstonian in South West London, in 2002.
A rapid rise followed. Six promotions in 13 seasons to go from the Combined Counties League to League One.
The going has been tough since arriving in the third-tier though, with progressively worse finishes of 15th, 18th and 20th.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Bottom and 10 points adrift after 31 games. The Dons looked dead and buried almost three quarters of the way into last season.
Former Wimbledon hero Wally Downes, a man at the heart of the 'Crazy Gang' spirit during the 1980s, replaced Neal Ardley as manager in December.
The fight back started in February. Five wins from seven games lifted them off the foot of the table come the middle of March.
An unbeaten seven-game finish, which included five draws, was just about enough to secure survival.
Six teams were in danger of the drop going into the final weekend.
AFC Wimbledon played out a goalless draw at already-relegated Bradford. Southend secured a dramatic late win against Sunderland. Plymouth, despite a 3-2 win against Scunthorpe, went down courtesy of goal difference.
Captain and centre-back Deji Oshilaja, a target of former Town boss Paul Hurst, joined newly-promoted Charlton on a Bosman free transfer.
Right-back Toby Sibbick also moved up the pyramid, joining newly-promoted Barnsley for a six-figure fee.
Midfielder James Hanson was sold to League One rivals Oxford United, while experienced striker Andy Barcham was released.
A mix of left-field punts, League One experience and Premier League loans.
Adam Roscow, 24, was handed the No.10 shirt after arriving from Welsh Premier League side Cardiff Met Uni.
Nesta Guinness-Walker, a 19-year-old left-back, reportedly turned down offers from two Premier League clubs to join the Dons from non-league club Metroplitan Police.
Striker Michael Folivi, 21, has returned on loan from Watford after playing his part in last season's survival mission. Keeper Nathan Trott, 20, is on loan from West Ham.
Defender Luke O'Neill and the versatile Callum Reilly both arrived on free transfers from Gillingham following Steve Evans' shake-up at Priestfield.
SEASON SO FAR
There were lots of draws (12) and single goals defeats (15) for AFC Wimbledon last season and that's exactly how they've started this campaign.
Wally Downes' men put up a good fight against newly-relegated Rotherham at Kingsmeadow on the opening day, but in the end conceded a late goal to lose 2-1. The Millers were good value for the three points.
It was a similar story at Fleetwood. The Dons led at the break, but ended up losing 2-1.
Then came a grudge match against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup. A fiercely contested affair ended 2-2, both teams missing a spot-kick in normal time, before MK triumphed in the penalty shootout.
At the weekend, they led 1-0 against Accrington Stanley come the interval. Stanley were reduced to 10 men just after the hour, but still fought back to claim a draw.
It's now what looks, on paper at least, a tough away double header for AFC Wimbledon - Ipswich tonight followed by Sunderland on Saturday.
"Of course we're looking forward to it," said Downes, when discussing those forthcoming trips.
"We wanted to be a League One team, and we are a League One team. Going to places like Sunderland and Ipswich is fantastic for the fans and fantastic for the players. We've got to go there and put on a good performance.
"We put a good performance on at Sunderland last year and was unfortunate to come away with a 1-0 defeat.
"I'm not sure, but I don't think the club have ever played at Portman Road, so it's gonna be great going there on Tuesday. We need to certainly be at our best over the next week."
Two Irish youngsters in Shane McLoughlin and Dylan Connolly.
McLoughlin, 22, was released by Paul Lambert midway through last season. A regular for the club's Under-23s for some time, his senior breakthrough at Portman Road never really came.
The only time we saw him for the first team was when the kids all played at Crystal Palace in the League Cup and as a late substitute in a 2-2 home draw with Middlesbrough during Bryan Klug's caretaker spell.
He's been used a late sub - totalling 38 minutes - in all three League One games so far this season.
There was much excitement surrounding Connolly when Mick McCarthy signed him from Shelbourne in February 2015. The speedy winger never made a first team appearance though and ended up going home to play for Bray and Dundalk.
He was Downes' first signing back at the start of 2019 and has been playing the role of impact sub.
There's also Anthony Wordsworth, the midfielder McCarthy paid £100k to sign from Colchester back in January 2013 but never really then seemed to fancy. He went on to have three seasons at Southend before joining AFC Wimbledon last summer.
The 30-year-old was a key man last season but is currently sidelined with an Achilles injury.
Striker Joe Pigott remains an AFC Wimbledon player having been linked with a summer move to Championship clubs Charlton and Reading.
He scored 18 goals last season - including 10 in the last 14 - and netted on the opening day of this campaign.
Downes has labelled him 'magnificent', claiming the 25-year-old has added strength to his natural goalscoring ability.